Day 135 – Moonscapes of Northern South Australia
Since we didn’t quite make it all the way to Coober Pedy last night (would have been a rather hefty drive from Port Lincoln), we didn’t roll in to town until mid-morning. Coober Pedy is famous for opals and people living underground. It was already scoring hot, and there was a wind blowing that felt like a hair dryer on full. The bright white of all the sandstone made it hard to see without squinting (even when wearing sun glasses). Did I mention that it was hot outside?
As we started getting closer to town, we started seeing signs warning of the mine shafts in the area. We then started seeing perfectly shaped little hills, which we (correctly) figured to be waste rock. A lot of the mines had these old trucks with a large drum suspended out the back of it. Turns out it is a turbo-fan vacuum to suck out the debris from a mine – this is what has been creating all these neat mounds.
When we were in Boulia, nearly three months ago, we happened to pick up a brochure with a 20% discount for the Old Timers Mine. I don’t know why I held on to it, but I did, and more surprising, I remembered that I had it. We did one of their self-guided tours ($15) and the 20% discount was used to hire audio commentary.
The first stop on the tour is the helmet rack – mines love PPE. The tour slowly and reasonably thoroughly explained the mining process, this mine, the origins of the town, and the original (influential) people. The mines were back breakingly low for me, especially since I had to wear a helmet. This particular mine was one of the original mines, but was re-discovered when renovations to their dug-out house penetrated into an old shaft. The tunnels and shafts of the mine were erratic, just like a rabbits warren. Sometimes it was tall enough for me to stand, but mostly I had to hunch. It would sometimes open into a large area connecting all the small tunnels.
They say that mine is quite stable as it’s all sandstone. I’m no geologist, so I can’t argue. I do imagine that it being sandstone helped in the mining process, as it was originally all excavated using a pick/chisel. There were many places along the way that you could see opal seams. They also highlighted the gypsum seams, which looked quite like colourless opal (potch), but was apparently completely unrelated – I decided to call gypsum ‘fools opal’. During the work turning the mine into a tourist attraction, they apparently found a large seam of opal, worth $50,000!
There was a rather comprehensive museum, with history of the area, and all sorts of information about opals. I have to say, I don’t find opals all that exciting (nor diamonds). I’m actually surprised there is such a demand for them. Not sure who the buyers are…
More interesting (for me) was the display of their original underground house (the one that they were renovating/expanding when they found the old mine). Apart from the low ceilings, they weren’t really that different to any regular house. Most of the rooms had some natural light plumbed down into them, so they weren’t actually that gloomy. The temperature was unquestionably more comfortable than above ground. This particular house was abandoned when they discovered the mine, and all the original furnishings were left in place (really adding to the curiosity factor).
The tour took about 90 minutes (thanks to the audio tape). Outside of the mine was a play pit full of discarded rock from a mine site. You were welcome to sift through to try and find opals. It was actually surprising how many of them looked shiny, like an opal…
The town is bizarre, seriously. We drove around for a while, just taking in how crazy the whole place is. The best I can describe it is a 1950s scrap heap, set in foothills of a Martian landscape. It’s like the more thrown together and unplanned a building is, the better it is (it certainly makes for interesting viewing). There is too much to talk about – funny Hong Kong man and his odd lookout (that tricked us from going to the real lookout). The dozens of buildings built into the face of hills. The discarded props from various movies that were filmed in the area (including the Vin Diesel sci-fi flick Pitch Black). The enormous underground Serbian church (that wanted a $5 donation to enter…). It was a truly entertaining place to see from the comfort of an air-conditioned car.
We left Coober Pedy heading north on unsealed road to Oodnadatta. 30km north of Coober Pedy are some colourful rock formations called The Breakaways (because they thought it looked like it broke away from Flinders Ranges). There were mesas of different sizes, in shades from pure white, to a rusty red, with all shades in between. There was a scene from the Australian drag queen movie, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert filmed here. When we watched the movie way back at Rainbow Valley in NT, I thought it’d be fun to do some cross-dressing wedding photography at The Breakaways, and try recreate Priscilla (me in Risa’s dress standing on the roof of Deli-chan with the wind blowing). But, the time came, and it was hot, windy, dusty and we weren’t really in the mood…
The Breakaways were quite pretty and very dramatic, but I remembered them being quite different in the movie (I thought they were epically large, and much more colourful in the movies), so I was a tad disappointed. We’d also seen prettier examples of eroded sandstone (Rainbow Valley NT, Chambers Pillar NT).
There was also the Dog Fence (different to the Rabbit Proof Fence) that I have recently learnt at 5,300km it is the longest fence in the world (suck it Great Wall of China). It was erected to keep dingos (should be called Dingo Fence) away from the sheep.
A professional photographer that I was talking with at Uluru told me about a few places that were beautiful, but not really known about by general public. One of them was The Painted Desert, which was between The Breakaways and Oodnadatta. It was a bit of a detour, but not enormous. Luckily these unsealed roads were in really good condition (I had to actually make myself slow down). We both had a feeling that it was going to be basically the same as what we’d just seen at The Breakaways, but hoped optimistically for something more impressive. Sadly, as far as we could see (from the comfort of our air-conditioned car) it was essentially the same, though less impressive. There were some hikes that could be done, but the sun was getting low (and it was still oppressively hot).
The road between Coober Pedy and Oodnadatta would have to be one of the most barren that I can remember. In places there was little more than small rocks and mud and the occasional speck of spinifex. It was, in my mind, completely inhospitable. I cannot imagine how Aborigines used to live in this area, and can only imagine the struggles the original explorers had. Being so barren, it was hard to see that there was strong wind blowing, but the second we opened the door we were instantly reminded. The wind was so strong that I had a hard time even pulling the door shut. This combined with the dry, dusty road created plumes of dust back behind us as far as I could see.
We finally arrived in Oodnadatta in the twilight of yet another beautiful outback sunset. I was starving and toyed with the idea of spending money on a big hamburger for dinner, but opted instead for a simple (cheap) meal in a can. There is a free camping area in the middle of town (sans toilet). We couldn’t help buy giggle at all the conversations/screaming that was going on in the houses in town.
１３５日目 ９月２５日（水） クーバーピティー！
ここは、オパールの採掘によって開拓された町で、砂漠の真ん中に突然小さな町が現れます。 町の付近は、小さな土の山がポコポコとたくさん見えます。 これは、オパールを採掘した際の土／岩です。
私たちは、古い採石場をそのまま保存した採石所／ミュージアム Old Time Mineという場所を見学してきました。
この場所は、オパールがここクーバーピティーで最初に発見された時期がらそう古くなく採掘が始まったようです。 しかしこの時代には電気ドリルなどはなくこの広い洞窟のような、迷路のような採掘場は、すべてツルハシや手動ドリルなのすべて手作業で掘られたものだそうです。 いくつか小さなダイナマイトで空けられた穴もありますが、まだダイナマイトの技術も発達していなかったので、自力で着火して2分で爆発となんとも危険を伴うものでした。
その後は、町の散策。 車でぐるぐると町を運転。 高台から町を見下ろすと、赤茶色いむき出しの土地に、岩／砂の山と建物が。 植物は、かなり少なく、火星や月を題材にした映画の様な荒野です。
さらなる砂漠の風景を目指し、The Breakways という場所へ。
ここは、映画プリシラの重要なシーンが撮影された場所です。 このクーバーピティーの周辺は、プリシラ、ピッチブラックなどなど多くの映画が撮影されています。 （その多くは、他の惑星のシーン笑）
この場所は、ウルルーで出会った写真家の方にお勧めされた場所なので、かなり期待していたのですが、先ほど見た The Breakwaysとほぼ変わらない景色で、状態の悪い道をかなり迂回してきたので、ちょっとがっかり。 確かに色とりどりの風化した岩と、草さえもないひたすら続く赤い石の荒々しい荒野の封家は、とても印象的でした。